Don’t Bet On It

The other day I came across an article online called “Top 25 Biggest Product Flops of All Time.” Not surprisingly, about 2/3 of the “winners” were food-related products. Inevitably, people are going to be extremely picky about what they put into their bodies, which puts the pressure on food manufacturers to really think through their decisions. And yet, no matter how much time and effort is put into product development and branding, sometimes things just go horribly, terribly wrong.

I noticed a few trends that seemed to contribute to product failure.

Number 1: Getting too creative
Sometimes, it takes awhile for food processors to find their niches. And even when they do, brand extension is still a risky endeavor. Sometimes, a trusted brand name can carry a product, and other times, its best to stick with what you do best. Number 24 on the list was Cosmo yogurt. In 1999, Cosmopolitan magazine branched into the dairy sector, launching a line of low-fat yogurt and cheese in the UK. Turns out, they should have stuck to writing fashion columns.

Number 2: Brand amnesia
Successful food manufactures have a clear understanding of what their customers expect and aim to make buying decisions as simple as possible. They know what their brand stands for. A good example of brand amnesia from the Top 25 was Colgate’s line of Kitchen Entrees. 'Cause we all know nothing makes you want to dig into your chicken and mashed potato dinner like the thought of that minty fresh taste in your mouth.

Number 3: Forgetting your audience
Every food manufacturer has a customer demographic. Catering to needs and desires of these customers is pivotal to sales. Change is not always welcome. Take number 4 on the list: The McDonald’s Arch Deluxe. This burger was invented in 1996 to appeal to sophisticated diners — adults who wanted a unique tasting, classy burger option. You can imagine how well this went over with customers who went to McDonald's in search of cheap, greasy cheeseburgers and fries.

And yet, despite all the warning signs and failure-related trends out there, it is estimated that over 80 percent of new products fail. Even the largest, most successful corporations in the world are not immune to failure. Sometimes, even my editorial director and boss, Jeff Reinke, messes up.

At the start of the Yankees/Phillies series, Jeff and I placed a friendly wager on the final outcome. If the Phillies won the series, I had to spend the entire day in my office building (as a known Yankees fan) clad in Red Sox gear. If the Yankees won the series, Jeff, who works out of our Madison, Wisconsin office, had to attend happy hour at a local bar wearing a Brett Favre Vikings jersey. We all know how that bet ended, now don’t we?

Although mistakes are always expensive, it is possible for food manufacturers to survive them. This goes beyond just branding issues — plant floor initiatives, new equipment trials, new construction are all areas where chances are taken. Knowing when to call it quits, having a back up plan in place and being willing to suck it up and acknowledge error, however, become crucial to survival.

The moral of the story here is this: Without taking risks, you will seldom see rewards. However, keep in mind that big risks always carry with them the chance that you will get your butt kicked by an angry mob of Packers fans.

How has taking chances paid off for your company? How have you overcome failure? Do you know where I can get a Brett Favre Vikings jersey? Email me: